It was 5 in the morning. I managed to wake the housekeeping guy up and convinced him to open the door for me. I just stepped outside and almost got knocked off by a heavy blow of chilly wind. All the shops were closed. There was not even a single human being on the road. The temperature was between 4 to 7. I was anxiously wondering if this guy would get his Gypsy.
I was almost about to knock the door of my hotel to get back in again when I saw a pair of headlights approaching me. He was there, though 15 minutes late. There was not much scope of talk – I rushed myself into the covered Gypsy. We were heading towards Panna – the emerald forest.
After some 1 hour of drive, he stops at the gate of the tiger reserve. I need to get my permit done from here. When I came back after few minutes, I saw he has removed the hood. I kept wondering – what happens if a tiger attacks the car. There is no protection. It is completely wide open. Neither the guide nor the driver has any sort of self defense mechanism. So, it is all on fate and the hope and the experience that in this tiger reserve, no human being has ever been attacked by tiger.
Inexperienced me was still worried. In the wee hours of the morning, when the daylight has just started pouring in and when you know no one can save you if you are in trouble and when you are so near to the wild tigers – I don’t know if you could think differently.
After driving 10-15 minutes inside the jungle, the guide asks us to stop. Look – there is a footstep mark. The tiger has gone in the same direction few hours ago. We went further in and found a spotted deer. It has started its hunt for food in the early morning itself. It looked at us for some time and vanished in the bushes. We kept searching and found many others. Deer is available in plenty in this 543 square km jungle. We saw a wild cat as well – as per the guide, it is one of the rarest creatures that you see in the jungle.
We drove for an hour and stopped at a watchtower. At a distance from here, you have a small waterhole. I saw few peacocks and peahens drinking. There was a crocodile nearby swimming in the shallow water. These animals coexist so near to each other as if they are completely safe and secure and insulated. Well, this is not the case. One moment of negligence and it can lose its life. Wow – that’s how the jungle is.
The place where we stopped was a grassland. All of us came down the car. My eyes were looking for some hidden danger in the grasses. The guide was completely indifferent as if it was his personal garden. I asked him “what happens if there is a tiger nearby”? He replies “very much possible and it is probably looking at us. But the moment it moves, we will get some alarm call. Monkeys and deers warn each other of tiger movement every time. So, don’t worry – you are still safe”. I was not so sure, so I took some photographs and got back in the car.
I was trying to capture an Eagle’s snap while suddenly the car halted. It was a big leopard. The driver saw it, the guide saw it, even my partner saw it. But I could not. We waited there for at least 30 minutes, it didn’t come back.
We came near another waterhole. This time it was me who spotted the deer first. It was drinking water. After that what happened in few minutes can only be described as a fantasy. The deer jumped as it was electrocuted. It started running immediately and we heard loud alarm calls. There is a tiger running for the deer – monkeys and other animals are trying to warn their friends as much as possible. It stopped for a moment and suddenly there is another set of alarm call – this time from behind. We all were shocked and turned back. We could not see the tiger but it was somewhere there at our back. Monkeys were jumping from one branch to another. They could see the danger – we could not. We waited there for at least 30 minutes – standstill. Any movement could have been dangerous. Then the guide asked the driver to start the car. It started after several failed attempts. It may sound nothing now – but inside a jungle, when you know you are close to the tiger – even one failed attempt to start the car or even a thought that you car may not work is good to stop your heartbeat.
Well, I came back safe and I must say it is one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Being so enthusiastic about old architectures and mountains and sea, I never made my mind to see a jungle. My perception has now changed. The jungle is beautiful and it can give you some experience that you will not get anywhere else.
How to reach: Panna tiger reserve is around 57 km from Khajuraho. You can hire the gypsy from Khajuraho bus stand. It will cost you around 1400 – 1500 Rs. Maximum 6 people are allowed per car.
Additionally, you will need to get the entry permit done from the gate of the reserve. It will cost you another 1230 Rs. Guide charge is included in it.